For Europe to take full advantage of the spectrum on its shores, broadcasters must share their allocations with mobile broadband providers.
This was the conclusion of Neelie Kroes, a vice-president of the European Commission and the lead for its Digital Agenda, who claimed working together was the only way for the region to reach its goal of 30Mbps connections for all Europeans by 2020.
The spectrum band under scrutiny at the moment is 700MHz, which both the Commission and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) agree should be shared between broadcasters and mobile broadband operators, rather than remaining the sole realm of radio programmes.
“Let's move away from the old, sterile fight about broadcasting versus broadband and examine more forward-looking scenarios,” said Kroes during a speech to the Spectrum Management conference in Brussels today. “Let's see how we can help convergence between the two so that every European has easy access to innovative and interactive content and services.”
She claimed measures such as using spectrum-efficient technologies, as well sharing infrastructure such as sites and masts, would benefit both industries, as well as offer better connectivity for citizens across Europe.
Kroes acknowledged there would be cost involved, however, and was clear about where she thought the bill should be sent. “Let's ensure that the costs incurred are not carried by the broadcasters,” she said. “After all, spectrum below 1GHz is valuable. Mobile operators can hardly expect to get those amazing opportunities for free.”
Making better use of available spectrum
The 700MHz debate is just one element of the overall spectrum plan though, and Kroes called for more spectrum sharing between separate industries, or even public and commercial organisations, to push forward with new technologies, helping to provide internet connections without laying miles of fibre.
“Spectrum is a unique resource, but a finite one; it doesn't grow on trees… so we'll need to be creative and innovative in seeking it,” she said.
Kroes plans to create a spectrum inventory, showing where organisations are bursting at the seams or where they are underutilising their allocation. From there, spectrum can be siphoned off and offered up for use of other parties – at a price – making sure everything available is used to its full potential.
“We need a spectrum inventory [and] early signs show there is substantial suitable spectrum [that] we can get at just by using it more efficiently or by reallocating the unused and under-used parts,” she said.
“The inventory is of huge strategic value. It's the right way forward for transparency, certainty and stability, to make allocation more objective, thorough and joined up.”
Sharing spectrum across Europe
Kroes insisted this must be a Europe-wide inventory, however, rather than each individual state recording their own spectrum activity.
“Only from a European level can we most efficiently see the whole picture and get to grips with the complex and intertwined issues – technical, economic and social,” she added.
The Commission representative was aware not every party involved would be pleased with the plans, but concluded her speech by reassuring them about why the strategy was being put in place.
“The fact is, wireless demand is growing exponentially and is likely to continue doing so,” said Kroes. “People expect to get the most out of their smartphones and tablets. They expect fast broadband on the move and they expect to enjoy new online services, however hungry for bandwidth they may be, including rich video content that the broadcasters are best placed to produce.
“If we don't do that for them – if we haven't done our homework to ensure enough spectrum – then they aren't going to be very patient with us. We'll fail to deliver for our citizens, we'll strangle online innovation, and we'll strangle economic growth too.
“But if we do deliver, if we implement our programme and meet our tight deadlines, we can put Europe in the lead of a global wireless revolution. For me, the choice is simple.”
Photo courtesy of Pietro Naj-Oleari, European Parliament, Flickr